why i don’t write about music

Have you noticed this? I’m a musician by trade, by day and by night, and I never write about it. Sure, I write about my daily goings-on, but that’s my profession; it’s not music. I’ve been more and more aware of this lately. Music and the arts are in the cross-hairs of budget cuts nation-wide, and champions are composing some really spectacular writings in their defense. Many of my friends and colleagues dedicate their blogs to writing about music. Some are professional, some are casual, some are philosophical. I have read things ranging from “why it’s important to improvise” to “why we compose” to “discussions on (any particular piece)” to “what goes on when I practice.” I’ve even read an article on why we should write about music more. They’re all wonderful.

Me, I don’t write about music because I’m no good at it. Oh, sure, the stuff backed by verifiable fact, that’s easy – read some stuff, compile any useful information, rearrange the pieces until the puzzle makes sense, draw a few conclusions based on how you rearranged it, add grammar, make it sound pretty and give it flow. (And cite.) No problem. But that’s not writing about music. That’s writing about about music. It’s the other kind I’m talking about.

The bit about how music makes me feel. About why it makes me feel. About why I do it. I can’t construct a vehicle of words suitable for the profound weight and importance of music. And I say “I” because I don’t presume to know anything about you regarding such a personal subject.

Thinking of the times I’ve been asked why I “do” music, I believe my standard line is, “Because I can’t do anything else.” Which, when it comes down to it, really isn’t an answer that satisfies anyone besides myself. A real answer would be something like, “Because I’m not happy if I’m not playing. Because it takes me to places I wouldn’t go in every day life. Because it shows me parts of myself I didn’t know existed. Because I’m free to explore and express sides of myself I normally wouldn’t be comfortable with. Because I’m free to say what I want to say unreservedly and without fear. Because the composer knew exactly how I feel. Because I know exactly how the composer feels. Because it’s wonderful to understand and be understood. Because you can communicate things that can’t be said – both for lack of propriety and for lack of words. Because it involves every part of my being and allows me to use every part of myself to its maximum potential. Because I am my own medium. Because it’s the essence of being alive, and therefore essential to being alive.”

Here’s the problem: this explanation (honestly the best I could come up with) is incredibly cheesy if you don’t already know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t been there – if you haven’t gotten goosebumps or cried because of a color, or a chord, or a phrase, if you haven’t had your day or even your life completely changed because of one piece, if you haven’t practiced something and said, “This, this guy knows me,” – then you’d probably look at me and say, “Well, if that’s what you want to do with your life.”

But most importantly, it only rests tenuously on the surface of music. I’m not saying anything about what music is. Because I can’t say anything about that (and I would venture that nobody can), and the harder I try, the more I flounder and the further I get from the point, grasping at just about anything.

Because I can’t say why a sonata is so powerful or a fugue so ethereal. I can’t say why that rhythm fills me with joy. I can’t say why that phrase is so beautiful. I can’t say why that voicing gives me chills. I can’t even try. The only helpful words I can offer are:

“Here, listen.”


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